The City of Beckley has plans to build a hiking trail to the New River Gorge National Park and Reserve and has hired an outdoor recreation development specialist to develop Beckley as a “gateway city” to the national park.
Cory Lilly, a Raleigh County native, has been hired. He will work with Gary Morefield, who began working for the city in 2019 and has developed miles of trails in the area of Piney Gorge over the past five years.
Lilly will be responsible for expanding the Piney Gorge trail system to the national park at the bottom of Batoff Mountain, Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold said.
“We’ve hired Cory because of his, basically, international experience in outdoor recreation,” Rappold said. “We are looking ahead to help the city move forward.
“He has a relationship with four or five very important regional authorities or organizations, an ongoing relationship with all of them that will help us develop.”
The project could require the city to annex some acreage between the city limits and the New River.
“These are attributes that could very well accommodate what we’re trying to accomplish in becoming a gateway city and hub of gateway cities to the New River Gorge national park,” Rappold added. “So if some annexation, through our efforts along these lines, develops into the possibility for annexation, then we’ll certainly pursue that.”
Rappold said that Lilly will capitalize on existing relationships with the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA), West Virginia University Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC), West Virginia Land Trust, Beckley Mill Outdoor Recreation Development and West Virginia Trail Alliance to expand the trail system from Piney Gorge and to advance the Mill Outdoor Recreation Development project, which is in the first phase of development.
Brainstormed by Councilman Tom Sopher (Ward I), who worked with David Sibray, Scott Worley and others to identify the historic importance of the Alfred Beckley Mill in Piney Gorge to Beckley, development of the mill site will emphasize existing hiking trails in Piney Creek Gorge, and it will showcase a number of rock formations that are available for climbing.
The first phase will likely be $7 million to $8 million, which is the federal cap for such projects, although Rappold said in May the exact figure was not yet determined. NRGRDA Executive Jina Belcher is seeking funding for the project from available sources of federal monies, via U.S Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s offices.
Future development of the site will include an amphitheater for Theatre West Virginia, the mayor added. The current amphitheater is at Grandview park.
The project, when completed, is expected to stretch from Beckley to the New River and over to the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County, a distance of about 12 miles. Rappold said Lilly will focus on development of six or seven miles of trails to the Gorge, with support of West Virginia Land Trust, a statewide nonprofit that is dedicated to preservation and protection of the state’s natural lands.
Lilly’s position is outside of the Parks and Recreation Department, which is headed by Leslie Gray Baker, Rappold said.
Read More:Beckley plans to build trail, hires specialist